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Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, parts 1 and 2

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Everyone Loves Johnny DeppWith the imminent release of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, as well as the fact that this website is still too new and developing for me to get a fancy critics screening pass, I decided to instead begin this week with a review of the trilogy thus far.  So abandon all hope of part three talk, all ye who enter here, and fear not, for thar be the last o’ me pirate-speak for the rest of this piece.

 


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   The Curse of the Black Pearl was something of a surprise to everyone.  Like myself, most people assumed that as a movie based on a decades-old theme-park ride, it would suffer the fate of it’s successor-in-type, The Haunted Mansion.  And yet as trailers began to unspool in theaters and advance buzz started to mount, by the time the movie bowed in theaters it was a smash hit, the epitome of an Event Film.

   As someone who is in love with the movie-going experience, the first Pirates movie will be something I remember for the rest of my life.  I remember working at the FunnyBone comedy club in Columbus, Ohio, with headlining comedian Tom Rhodes, who had so loved the movie during the afternoon that he rallied us to come see it with him at his repeat viewing.  And so we rode up the escalator towards the cinema, buzzed on Rum and “Yo-ho-hoing” our way into the packed theater.

The movie stands for me as one of the best examples of how good a summer event movie can be.  The story is strong, the special effects feel organic to said story, and it has strong comic relief, and characters begging to be immortalized.  To be blunt, it was a hell of a lot of fun.  From the quiet, goose bump inducing creepy singing of a young Elizabeth on the bow of the ship as the film opened, through the darkening skies of the town as the Pearl entered port, through the discovery of the cursed pirate skeletons working the sails by moonlight, past the showdown between the anti-heroic Jack Sparrow (sorry, CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow) and the awesomely wicked Barbosa, the movie is just damn fun.

The main criticism of Dead Man’s Chest was that it was complicated, long, and full of expensive CGI.  This would be valid criticism if it weren’t for the fact that it all works.  Yes, it’s complicated, but not to the point that it can’t be figured out, and not in a way that the story doesn’t make sense. The sequel stays true to most of the characters, the one exception being the love triangle between Will, Jack, and Elizabeth that feels a bit forced, but doesn’t pull the movie down with it.

It is long, but not boring.  The action sequences are exciting, the best of which being the three-way swordfight complete with giant wheel.  And even through makeup and CGI, Bill Nighy as Davy Jones continues his run of being unable to suck at any role.

Chest, however, is unable to stand alone without the first to introduce the characters, and the third to finish the story.  A cliffhanger ending is not an artistic failure in a movie intended to be a part-two-of-three, so it loses no points for leaving Jack Sparrow in the high seas equivalent of being frozen in carbonite, but it did leave me feeling a lack of completion to any sort of dramatic arc.  While this was intentional, and director Gore Verbinski has stated that Chest is a film meant to be viewed in tandem with At World’s End, that doesn’t mean it’s not a flaw. It isn’t a fatal flaw however, and the movie succeeds more often than it fails.

Both movies are fitting chapters in a trilogy that is being touted by some as this generation’s Star Wars, (though I think a few films by Peter Jackson may hold some stiff competition to that claim) and they certainly make me eager for At World’s End to sail its way onto the screen.

The Curse of the Black Pearl: A, Dead Man’s Chest: B

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